What's more important: Tourism or education?

It’s almost an annual debate in Minnesota, a state in which statute dictates that public school districts cannot start their school year before Labor Day, recognized on the first Monday of September. Sure, 59 school districts in the state asked for and were granted waivers to start classes in August this past year, but such waivers are, apparently, only given in cases involving significant extenuating circumstances.

    In other words, school districts in Minnesota, for the most part, can’t start school prior to Labor Day for one reason and one reason only: It apparently hurts the state’s economy because a pre-Labor Day start to the school year means fewer families embark on that one last family getaway of the summer. That hurts the state’s tourism industry, which includes all kinds of state parks and countless resorts. Even more specific, if classes start prior to Labor Day, fewer families will attend the “great Minnesota get-together,” also known as the Minnesota State Fair.

    Fine, have the debate. It’s a robust topic, after all, with valid points expressed on both sides. Although, that said, this, too, must be mentioned: In a Star Tribune article on this subject earlier this week, some people cited in the story who want school to start after Labor Day cited studies and projections that apparently indicate how a pre-Labor Day start of school would adversely impact the state’s economy and tourism industry. But, to his credit, Northfield Superintendent Chris Richardson wondered where the research is that shows a post-Labor Day start to the school year benefits schools and students.

    Richardson’s query gets at the question people need to be asking on this subject: Does this come down to what’s good for Minnesota’s resorts, parks and the state’s signature fair, or what’s good for kids?

    That may sound like a question that tries to box in the proponents of a post-Labor Day start to the school year, but those who favor the school year starting before the national holiday weekend that serves as the unofficial end of the summer have some explaining to do as well, because all they seem to want to cite when making their case is the need for more time to prepare students for high-stakes, standardized tests.

    Tests, tests and more tests. Maybe we should stop calling it “school” once and for all. Maybe when a winter storm is raging and the kids are hoping for a cancellation they should be asking mom and dad, “Do you think test prep will be cancelled tomorrow?”

    But enough on that. Let’s face it: When all of the youth summer activities and athletics wrap up, most of August qualifies as the dog days of summer, with bored kids and many parents saying to anyone who will listen that the school year can’t start soon enough. That’s not to say that kids having some idle time and being able to kick back and do basically nothing is a terrible thing; it is called summer “vacation” after all.

    But tourism is your best argument? Seriously, if your family is going to cancel a get-away over the long Labor Day holiday weekend because the school year has already started, then you probably didn’t want to get away that bad in the first place.